That is fine. I thank the committee for the opportunity to appear before it today. I am accompanied by Ms Jackie Harrington, who has policy responsibility for the humanitarian assistance scheme and who travelled from Sligo today, and by Ms Susan Kelleher, our area manager from Clare with responsibility for the community welfare service in Clare.
As the Chairman, said this scheme is in place to provide supports to householders affected by the recent adverse weather events. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is the lead Department for severe weather emergencies and the Office of Public Works has responsibility for capital flood relief activities. However, the Department of Social Protection has an important role to play in assisting households in the immediate aftermath of emergency events such as flooding.
The scheme, administered by the local community welfare service, CWS, is available to assist affected householders following severe flooding. In 2012, the Department sought sanction from Government to activate this scheme in any future cases of flooding to facilitate an immediate response for householders following such devastating events. The scheme, which is means-tested, is available to assist people whose homes are damaged by the severe weather and who are not in a position to meet costs for essential needs, household items and, in some instances, structural repair.
The income test for humanitarian assistance is significantly more generous than that which applies in the case of means-tested social welfare schemes generally. The basic principle of the income test is that individuals and families with average levels of income will qualify for assistance. For example, a family consisting of a couple and two children with a gross household income of €70,000 or less will receive 100% of the amount allowable in respect of their application. A reduced or tapered level of support can be provided in cases where such families have income more than €70,000. The income test determines the household’s ability to meet the costs of restoring its home to a habitable condition.
The Government has not set a limit on the amount that can be paid to an individual household under this scheme. Levels of payment depend on the relative severity of damage experienced and the household’s ability to meet these costs, ensuring that the funding is appropriately targeted.
The Department immediately activated its humanitarian assistance scheme in response to the flooding in early December 2015. The scale and extent of the flooding experienced in recent weeks is unprecedented and has impacted right across the country. The Department has attended the daily meetings of the national co-ordination group to contribute to the co-ordinated interagency response which is being provided across the country. I assure the committee that the necessary community welfare service staff are in place and are engaging with local authorities and emergency personnel to ensure supports are provided to those affected as swiftly as possible. Department staff are proactive in assessing and meeting the demand for assistance through the establishment of emergency clinics and home visits. The Department has opened emergency clinics in towns such as Ballinasloe, Crossmolina, Athlone, Gort and Carrick-on-Suir and in a number of towns in Kilkenny.
Staff are on standby to open emergency clinics in other towns if the need arises.
The humanitarian assistance scheme is demand-led and emergency payments have already been made to 270 households, with expenditure of more than €235,000 to date. These are mainly payments covering essential items, including clothing, food, toiletries, meals for families relocated to emergency accommodation and fuel. To date, most support has been provided in Galway, Cork and County Mayo. However, support has also been provided to affected households in other counties, including Tipperary, Westmeath, Clare, Kerry, Kilkenny, Waterford, Wicklow, Sligo and Roscommon. A breakdown by county of the payments made to date has been circulated to the committee for information purposes.
In dealing with emergency events of this nature, the Department generally adopts a three-stage approach. Stage 1 is to provide emergency income support payments in the immediate aftermath of the event to cover needs such as food, clothing, toiletries and fuel. Stage 2 generally involves the replacement of white goods, basic furniture items and other essential household items after the flood water abates and the houses have dried out. Stage 3 is to identify what longer-term financial supports or works are required. These can include plastering, dry lining, relaying of floors, electrical rewiring and painting. Throughout this process, the staff engage with the local authorities and other agencies to ensure supports are provided to persons affected as swiftly as possible. It is expected that the number of claims and the costs in respect of the current flooding will increase in the coming weeks as we move into making stage 2 and stage 3 payments, which, as already stated, cover the replacement of furniture and white goods and longer-term financial supports. Householders seeking assistance under the scheme are being advised to contact their local Department of Social Protection office, which will be able to offer assistance. Contact telephone numbers are also available on the Department's website. All the local authorities and emergency personnel have all the key local contact details.
Assistance is not provided under this scheme for losses covered by insurance, commercial or business losses or, generally, any loss or damage to private rented accommodation or local authority accommodation. As the committee will be aware, there is a separate emergency scheme for small businesses and community, voluntary and sporting bodies affected by the recent flooding operated on behalf of Government by the Irish Red Cross. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has put assistance measures in place for the farming community as well in respect of animal welfare and fodder aid. In the case of farms, support can be provided under the Department of Social Protection scheme towards the family home.
I assure the committee that the Department is providing reassurance to householders that financial support is available and is continuing to engage with the local authorities, An Garda Síochána and other emergency personnel to ensure that all available supports are provided to households affected by the recent flooding. I hope this has been of assistance and we are happy to answer any questions.